Instead of holding crisp bills, many tourists and locals have often found themselves irritated that they are stuck with a ticket voucher worth a few cents. Players only have six months to use the voucher. But where does the money go after a voucher expires?
Per a 2011 law, the state collects 75 percent of any expired wagering voucher and the casino licensee can keep the rest. And gamblers left $22 million in unclaimed tickets in the fiscal year that ended June 30, according to state data.
Clorissa Pierce of Farmington, New Mexico, makes sure to play a mix of new and old slot machines when she visits Las Vegas. She likes the vintage penny and quarter games, the sound coins make and checking out the bonuses on the large new machines.
But one thing she doesn’t like — ticket vouchers. When Pierce ends her gameplay and redeems her money at an ATM/ticket-in, ticket-out machine, she’s stuck with a paper ticket for the change value.
“That’s one thing I hated about the ticket vouchers,” Pierce said. “They don’t give out less than a dollar. You have to go all the way to the cashier’s cage to cash them out. Sometimes that’s a pain, especially when it’s 30 or 40 cents. It’s become a hassle.”
Nevada’s expiration process is not unique. Unclaimed tickets in New Jersey and Pennsylvania expire after one and three years, respectively. Others don’t expire at all.
In Nevada, when it hits 180 days after a voucher’s issuance, casinos include 25 percent of the redemption value in its reported gross revenue for the month that it expired and remit the remaining amount to the Nevada Gaming Commission, which adds the funds into the state’s general fund.
Revenue collected from expired tickets has increased every year since 2012, the first year the state began collecting revenue from unclaimed tickets. At that time, the state reported revenue of $3.1 million on $4.2 million of unclaimed vouchers. (The state does not collect data on how many vouchers go unclaimed each year.)
State revenue from these tickets climbed to an estimated $10.4 million during the fiscal year 2019. Revenue declined during the pandemic but as the businesses and travel started to pick up over the past year, it jumped by 59 percent in 2022 to $16.5 million. That means casinos kept roughly $5.5 million in unclaimed tickets last fiscal year.
Experts point to a few different reasons for the jump in revenue.
“It has been pretty interesting to witness the growth recorded in the expired wagering voucher fee payments from $7.2 million in FY13 to what was collected in FY22,” Mike Lawton, senior economic analyst for the Nevada Gaming Control Board, said in an email. “For the most part, the amount of expired wagering voucher fee payments has grown in tandem with the growth of slot win recorded by the state. This seems logical as the ratio between slot win and expired vouchers has not fluctuated too greatly.”
Last year, the state recorded an all-time record for slot wins at $9.8 billion — naturally, there was an increase in expired vouchers.
But Lawton pointed to a change in the law that took effect in 2021. It expanded the collection sources of expired vouchers to include all games that issue wagering vouchers such as some advanced table games and some sports wagering scenarios. State officials say they don’t have any idea of its impact because the Gaming Control Board doesn’t receive data on expired wagering vouchers by game type.
Other industry members suspect changing operations and visitor behavior during the pandemic contributed to an increase in expired tickets.
Victor Newsom, senior vice president at Las Vegas-based financial tech firm Everi Holdings Inc. — which manufactures ATM and ticket-in, ticket-out machines, among other products — said more vouchers could be circulating with lower values because many casinos limited their Coin operations after the coin shortage in 2020.
“With the coin shortage, they have moved to the point where you can redeem a $100.53 ticket, but you would only get the $100 in bills,” Newsom said. “You would get another TITO ticket generated for 53 cents that you can take to the cage. It doesn’t necessarily cut down on the number of vouchers floating around but it dramatically cuts into both the operator’s cost and the value of the unredeemed number of tickets.”
For players like Pierce, a ticket worth a few coins is often not worth the trip to the cage, especially if there’s a line. Some will save their tickets for future visits or keep them as souvenirs.
Pierce said her family collects them to add into tips when they’re on a property. Other times, she’s had players hand her their extra tickets while she sits near an ATM. She’ll even pick up a rogue ticket atop the machine.
“I wish they would set it up so you could get your change back,” Pierce said. “When they just expire, it’s kind of a waste.”
McKenna Ross is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Contact her at [email protected] Follow @mckenna_ross_ on Twitter.